updated 7/14/2004 8:50:26 AM ET 2004-07-14T12:50:26

A group of Americans arrested on a freelance counterterror operation and found to be running a private jail in Afghanistan duped international peacekeepers three times into assisting their illegal raids, the NATO-led force said Wednesday.

The three have been charged with hostage-taking and assault, officials said. If found guilty, they could be confined to Afghanistan’s rudimentary jails for up to 20 years, Attorney General Abdul Fatah told The Associated Press.

Afghan security forces arrested the three, led by a former U.S. soldier named Jonathan K. Idema, on July 5 after finding eight Afghans in a makeshift holding facility in the capital, Kabul.

Cdr. Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, said Idema called in ISAF bomb-disposal teams complete with a sniffer dog to check buildings three times in June.

He said ISAF troops were deceived by the men’s “American-style” uniforms, complete with U.S. flags, and their apparently professional approach.

ISAF troops “believed they were providing legitimate support to a legitimate security agency,” Henderson said.

The teams found traces of explosives in two of the buildings, and suspicious electronic components in another, Henderson said. He wouldn’t say whether they could have been used to make bombs.

No connection to military
The U.S. military has said the three have no connection to either the American military or government. The U.S. Embassy has checked that the men are being treated properly, but there is no sign of an attempt to remove them from the country.

Fatah said the charges raised against the Americans, as well as four Afghans arrested with them, carry jail terms of 16-20 years.

Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, a senior judge at Kabul’s lower court, said it received the case Wednesday, but that it would be several days before a trial could begin.

“It will be a public trial,” Bakhtyari told AP. “They can bring lawyers from whichever country they want,”

He said Idema would remain in Afghan custody.

Afghan officials say they freed all eight illegal prisoners, though residents from an area of Kabul where one of the raids occurred say five men have not returned.

An Afghan security official has told the AP that prisoners were found hanging from their feet in the private jail and showed signs of being beaten.

Henderson insisted that none of the peacekeepers had witnessed any abuse of detainees seen at the three buildings searched for explosives.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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